Face processing in autism: Reduced integration of cross-feature dynamics.
Shah P., Bird G., Cook R.
Characteristic problems with social interaction have prompted considerable interest in the face processing of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Studies suggest that reduced integration of information from disparate facial regions likely contributes to difficulties recognizing static faces in this population. Recent work also indicates that observers with ASD have problems using patterns of facial motion to judge identity and gender, and may be less able to derive global motion percepts. These findings raise the possibility that feature integration deficits also impact the perception of moving faces. To test this hypothesis, we examined whether observers with ASD exhibit susceptibility to a new dynamic face illusion, thought to index integration of moving facial features. When typical observers view eye-opening and -closing in the presence of asynchronous mouth-opening and -closing, the concurrent mouth movements induce a strong illusory slowing of the eye transitions. However, we find that observers with ASD are not susceptible to this illusion, suggestive of weaker integration of cross-feature dynamics. Nevertheless, observers with ASD and typical controls were equally able to detect the physical differences between comparison eye transitions. Importantly, this confirms that observers with ASD were able to fixate the eye-region, indicating that the striking group difference has a perceptual, not attentional origin. The clarity of the present results contrasts starkly with the modest effect sizes and equivocal findings seen throughout the literature on static face perception in ASD. We speculate that differences in the perception of facial motion may be a more reliable feature of this condition.